Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Trading Liberty for Safety Was a Bad Idea

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Jacob Hornberger’s Commentary

In the Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania, published by Benjamin Franklin, it is said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

That is exactly what Americans did after the 9/11 attacks — they traded liberty to achieve safety from “the terrorists.” Thanks to the trade that was made, we now live in a nation in which the president and the Pentagon wield the omnipotent power to arrest, torture, jail indefinitely, rendition, and even execute after a kangaroo proceeding any American they label an “enemy combatant” in the “war on terror.”

No one can deny that that power strikes at the very heart of a free society. It is the most direct, the most tyrannical power of all, much more so, for example, than the power to infringe economic liberties, including taxation, regulation, and inflation.

Ironically, however, even though after 9/11 Americans relinquished to President Bush every single power he asked for — plus more — many of them are more frightened than ever. In fact, for some what began as a generalized fear of “the terrorists” has now morphed into a fear that one billion Muslims are going to invade, conquer, and enslave the United States. It only goes to show that trading liberty for safety oftentimes does nothing to assuage the fears of those who would trade liberty for safety.

Equally ironically, if there is another terrorist attack on American soil, the logical and rational reaction would be that trading liberty for security didn’t work, which wouldn’t be surprising given that U.S. foreign policy hasn’t changed and, therefore, continues to engender the same anger and hatred that led to the previous acts of terrorism.

However, frightened American are likely to draw the exact opposite conclusion — that the president and his military were not given enough omnipotent power after 9/11, despite the obvious fact that they were given all the power they wanted, considering the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, the NSA spying, the “enemy combatant” labeling, the military tribunals, rendition, torture, Gitmo, secret prison camps, invasions and occupations, and signing statements.

Franklin was right: Those who trade liberty for security deserve neither liberty for security. He might have added that they also will get neither liberty nor safety nor peace of mind.

The question is: How do we now regain the freedom that was traded away for safety? The place to start would be to dismantle the pro-empire, pro-militarist foreign policy that engenders the anger and hatred that then produces the terrorism that then ignites the fear in people that then induces them to trade liberty for safety.

Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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